Every book needs a setting, whether it’s a fantastical, invented planet deep in space or an ancient world we can only imagine. I chose to set my novel in Whitby, a small seaside town in North Yorkshire, England. Or did I? Did, indeed, Whitby choose me? I truly believe that if you have a creative spark within you, then this idyllic, magical little place draws it out of you and, somehow, you can’t quite help yourself.
Whitby, historically, is a location that authors feel the need to write about. So many great literary figures have been inspired by this quaint, northern coastal town, including Charles Dickens, George Du Maurier, Elizabeth Gaskell, Mary Linskill, Walter Scott, Lewis Carroll and Bram Stoker; some weaving the place into their writing, capturing it forever. It is said that Lewis Carroll created part of the remarkable Alice in Wonderland whilst on holiday there and that he wrote The Walrus and the Carpenter verse whilst sunning himself on Whitby beach.
Dracula is celebrated in Whitby, due to its intimate connection with the Count himself, as key, integral parts of this classic and legendary horror take place there. The author, Bram Stoker, visited Whitby in the summer of 1890, to investigate if it was a suitable place for a family seaside holiday. He resided at 6 Royal Crescent, that elegant arc of tall, distinguished houses which face the sea on Whitby’s West Cliff.
He noted, in August: The setting sun, low down in the sky, was just dropping behind Kettleness; the red light was thrown over on to the East Cliff and the old Abbey and seemed to bathe everything in a beautiful rosy glow.
In my mind, no other setting would be quite right for those scenes in Dracula, where the Count stalks Lucy up those eerie 199 steps, deep into the night.
Few towns of its size, in Britain, can match the diversity of Whitby’s historical connections, aside from the list of impressive writers I have previously mentioned. Whitby boasts The Captain Cook Museum, situated in the very house in which he lodged in, as an apprentice, in 1746-1749.
There are several jewellery boutiques dotted about the town, dedicated to the crafting of intricate items, all made using the black stone of Whitby Jet, the fossilised driftwood of the Monkey Puzzle tree from the Jurassic period, 160 million years ago. It was popularised by Queen Victoria, when she introduced the wearing of Jet into court circles, as she had searched for appropriate black mourning jewellery after the death of her husband, Albert, in 1861. Thanks to the photographer, Frank Sutcliffe, so many amazing photographs of Victorian Whitby endure, as he dutifully recorded life in Whitby during this time, he captured the very essence of the place and there is a gallery, showcasing his work, in the town.
One of the aspects I most cherish about Whitby is that it is quite separated into two parts. There is the West Side and (my personal favourite) the East Side. Stepping off that swing bridge and into the old cobbled streets is much like going back in time with the long-standing cottages, the thin ghauts to the riverside and the yards which appear the same as they did hundreds of years ago.
Bram Stoker wrote this about the East Side: The houses of the old town – the side away from us – are all red roofed and seem piled up, one over the other anyhow.
This side of Whitby houses the jewel itself, the magnificent Abbey, or what is now left of it. It dominates the skyline for miles away, sitting proudly and overlooking the rest of the town.
Bram Stoker: It is a most noble ruin, of immense size and full of beautiful and romantic bits.
Just down the path, situated at the top of the calf-firming 199 steps (you have to count them) is The Church of Saint Mary.
Bram Stoker: a big graveyard, all full of tombstones. This is to my mind the nicest spot in Whitby.
Again, I find that I can’t help but agree with Mr Stoker, the view from this spot is captivating and perfect, you soon forget about anything else.
All of this magic and wonderment and I find that I still haven’t mentioned the Whale Bones, the piers, the bustling harbour, The Dracula Experience, Pannett Park, The Whitby Museum, the ghost walks, the award-winning fish and chips, the clean beaches, the Goth Festivals, Whitby Regatta, the steam engine, the quirky shops, the boat trips, the sunsets or the friendly people; so many of these locations, buildings and attractions appear within the pages of my first novel, Black Eyed Boy, which is set to be released in 2015 by Crooked Cat Publishing. It is a Young Adult novel, an urban fantasy romance and a celebration of my most favourite holiday destination, the small but vastly important coastal town, a seaside gem, to be found just over the tops of those gorgeous, heather-topped rolling Yorkshire moors. And that, folks, is why. Why it’s Whitby.